Introducing Venom: Amazing Spider Man #300

I confess I’ve never been a big Spider-Man fan. I’ve grabbed the odd issue here and there over the years, and except for a lot of J. Michael Straczynski’s run, ol’ Web-head doesn’t occupy much space in the short boxes. I can’t say exactly why that is; maybe it’s because I’ve seen so much of him in cartoons and live-action over the years that it’s satisfied all my Spidey needs. Or maybe there was too much angst; I know one of the reasons I dropped X-Men is Chris Claremont kept ramping up the anxiety factor to such a degree that each issue just depressed me.

In retrospect, the one era I really wish I had gotten onboard with was the Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie run on Amazing Spider-Man. This was one of the most memorable comic runs of all time, which spawned (see what I did there? Didja?) one of most memorable characters in comics.

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Our story opens with Mary Jane Watson-Parker huddled in a corner, utterly terrified. What’s driven MJW-P into such a state? That’s what our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man would like to know…

…especially since she seems to be afraid of him, until Peter removes his mask. Then his wife falls into his arms with unabashed relief. Mary Jane explains that whatever showed up and frightened her out of her wits looked like Spider-Man, only huge like a bodybuilder, with a mouth on his mask. Who or whatever it was knew where she lived but didn’t know they were married. Peter begins to throw together an overnight bag to get her out of here, wondering who could scare MJ like this.

Elsewhere, the person who could scare MJ like this slips through a window into a rundown apartment building, and he does look a lot like Spider-Man.

Only, he ain’t. It seems he’s able to change out of costume pretty damn quick, and considering the Spider-Man newspaper articles taped to the wall, he’s got an unhealthy obsession with our wall-crawler. He hits the weights, talking to… somebody. Either he’s schizophrenic, or it’s something else.

Cut to a hotel where Peter’s got Mary Jane settled in bed, and he’s off doing what he does best: indulging in guilt and self-recrimination. But hey, that’s Spider-Man’s jam; it would be weird if he didn’t do that every once in a while. He drops into some exposition where he remembers Secret Wars (the ’80s version) and how he got his original black costume, which Reed Richards later explained was actually an alien that wanted to bond with him. Peter had originally used a sonic gun to disable the creature, but it got loose and he had to use the power of deafening church bells to kill it. Only, it appears the thing hasn’t been killed after all. Morning comes, and Peter wakes up to find Mary Jane on the phone.

God, I miss the ’80s and ’90s, when Marvel artists weren’t afraid to draw women sexy. Yeah, there were excesses, but dammit, comics were supposed to be about escapism, when men were uber-manly and women were muy-feminine. I mean, look at Pete here.

Damn, is that boy swole!

Mary Jane reveals she’s pulled some strings and is getting them a massive apartment. Back then, MJ was a top-tier fashion model, and the principal breadwinner in the family. Peter heads out to his place, but first he makes a stop by the Fantastic Four HQ (I forget if it was Four Freedoms Plaza or the Baxter Building at this point, or something else; I know Dr. Doom blew up the Baxter Building at some point. Or a kid who thought he was Doc Doom. It’s a long story, which I might cover here someday) to pick up the sonic gun used against the alien before. Then he learns Aunt May has left a message on his answering machine (remember those?) reminding Pete about a dinner date with her. He heads out and it’s not long before he feels like he’s being followed. It turns out it’s our mystery man, and Peter gives him the slip by ducking into an alleyway and spidering up.

Later, Peter and MJ are checking out the new apartment, which is pretty big, which implies Mary Jane is making serious money, considering this is NYC and residential space is ridiculously high if you’re not living in a rent-controlled apartment. Peter is depressed that he can’t even begin to help pay for the place, and MJ tries to cheer him up by modeling for him. But Peter doubts his photography skills, so MJ tries something else.

“Peter’s spirits begin to rise”. I see what you did there, David Michelinie. And I approve.

Later, MJ and Peter are at Aunt May’s, along with a guy named Nathan, who’s exactly the sort of cranky old bastard I hope I never turn into. Honestly, I think I need to make a living will where if I become That Guy, one of my friends contracts a hit out on me. MJ and Aunt May have a nice moment where the former wonders why the latter seems to be distancing herself from her and Peter. It turns out May also doesn’t want to be That Guy, as in the person who messes up a marriage by interfering too much, probably especially when they’re doing the wild thing. But MJ points out that May will never be That Guy, and both she and Peter would be crushed if May dropped out of their lives. It’s scenes like this that make me realize just how much I really miss this married couple, and I didn’t know what I had until Joe Quesada took it away. And I don’t care how many years it’s been; I’m not forgetting.

Cut to a familiar-looking church and our mystery stalker is talking to himself… or as we now know, the alien. They’re interrupted by a cop who thinks the guy is pilfering the poor box, but it turns out it’s a bad night for rookies.

But hey, I’m sure the guy is just sleeping… with his eyes open. No way he’s dead… really.

Later, Peter and MJ’s pals help the couple move into their new apartment, and I love how one of MJ’s model friends with a truly bizarre haircut is blown away by Harry Osborn’s rippled ‘do. During the housewarming party, Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson takes Peter aside and asks if he’s given any thought to getting out of news photography, which went from being a way for the science major to pay the bills to a career. I can relate. Pete points out that yeah, he’d like to get back to the science (and credit to writer Dan Slott for pointing out years later that Peter never got around to getting his Masters), but it’s hard doing what you love when you keep getting distracted.

He trails off when he sees a guy who looks just like Spider-Man. Peter slips out and costumes up and also grabs the sonic gun, hoping the guy didn’t get too far ahead of him. He then spots his faux, er, foe slipping into a building. He goes in and immediately gets bushwhacked.

It’s then that we discover who our mystery man is: Eddie Brock!

…Who? Fortunately, David Michelinie takes pity on us casual readers and lays down some exposition on the following pages. Brock was a writer for the Daily Globe and was writing columns about a serial killer called the Sin-Eater. That storyline, I remember; detective Jean DeWolfe, a Spider-Man ally and potential love interest, was killed by the Sin-Eater. Brock was fooled by a man named Emil Gregg into believing he was the killer and kept the man’s identity secret, and then later it was discovered that the real Sin-Eater was policeman Stan Carter. Brock looked like an idiot and the Globe suffered, so Eddie got axed. Brock blamed Spider-Man for, you know, doing his job and finding the real murderer, so he started working out to relieve stress… which didn’t work. Depressed, Brock contemplated suicide, but being a good Catholic, he went to a church to pray… which is where the alien symbiote found him.

All throughout this exposition, Spidey has been slowly crawling to the sonic gun. He makes a play for it, but Venom has Spider-Speed as well.

And I have to say that Todd McFarlane knows how to craft a fight. The action is dynamic and Michilinie provides us with a terrific inner monologue for Spidey, touching on just how bad-ass Venom is, as well as how his foe is invisible to his Spider-Sense. All Pete’s got is experience, but fortunately it’s enough to let him trick Eddie into continuing the fight over to where the sonic gun is:

But a problem pops up: the alien has become a truly symbiotic life form and is attached to Eddie. Spider-Man can’t kill it without killing the host. Pete’s in rough shape and knows he can’t win the fight without a better plan, so he leaves. Unfortunately for him, Venom’s got other ideas. He shoots his webs at Pete’s foot and yanks him back. A devastating blow sends Spidey off to dreamland, and he wakes up hours later.

Yeah, things just got a little weird. Brock tells Pete it’s all about symbolism, since he also tried killing the symbiote with church bells, and then he leaves just like a Bond villain, expecting his death trap to work. At least he has a good reason to take off, seeing as how the bells would hurt the symbiote.

Spidey hasn’t got an escape plan here, only brute strength. One hand tears through the tons of webbing to catch the clapper. He grabs it and the mechanism yanks him free, but before he can celebrate, Brock is back, having returned when he didn’t hear a squishy ring. Spidey retreats to the top of the tower but now has a plan: Venom’s webbing is organic, meaning it comes directly from the symbiote, and Pete notes that it just used a whole lot of the sticky stuff. Spidey kicks Brock off the tower, and as Eddie tries to web himself to safety, Pete uses a piece of metal from the tower to cut his line. Brock runs out of webbing and slams into the ground unconscious. Peter then takes Eddie to Four Freedoms Plaza (so that answers my earlier question).

Oh man, I forgot about this era, which was written, or at least started by Steven Englehart. It was to my mind a terrible, terrible time in Fantastic Four history, what with the “improved” Thing and She-Thing.

Ben says he talked to Reed, who said the “sonics” will keep the symbiote helpless until they build a cell for him at the Vault, Marvel’s super-prison. Back at home, Peter tells MJ what went down but she’s super-pensive, and she explains that it’s because Peter’s black and white costume reminds her too much of the thing that had terrified her. Peter promptly burns the costume, even though he doesn’t have a back-up, but MJ still has a red and blue number he got from a costume shop in Germany (an adventure detailed in the one-shot Spider-Man vs. Wolverine). Pete puts it on, and cue splash page!

Amazing Spider-Man #300 is a fantastic issue with the debut of a tremendous bad guy, along with great art and solid writing. But reading it made me a little sad, because it made me miss the good old days when Peter and MJ were married. In recent issues of Spider-Man’s comics, Peter is single and once again living in a crappy apartment, and after once being a science teacher and head of his own massive company, he’s working at the Daily Bugle… again. Back in the ’80s, you had writers delivering gradual character growth for both Peter and MJ, but all that got destroyed by One More Day. On top of that, the art styles have changed dramatically. Whereas Todd McFarlane understood that the medium is about escapism, modern Marvel artists give us stuff like this.

One thing I also noticed is how Venom was drawn then compared to now. Somewhere along the way, somebody realized that Venom didn’t look, well, scary enough. It wasn’t until later that Eddie began to look like the Venom that we’re used to, with an evolution that took place over a few years.

As for how I feel about Venom… honestly, I think he’s kind of overrated. I also hated how he went from hardcore murderous villain to anti-hero. Not only did he kill the police officer in the issue reviewed above, but he killed two guards escaping from the Vault in issue #315. How did this murderous clown rate becoming a hero? Oh, right, because enough fanboys thought he looked cool and edgy, and it was the ’90s. Still, I’ll give Venom this: where some characters fade away after their creators crafted them, Venom has endured and even thrived, even getting his own spin-off movie. Not too shabby, Eddie.

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  • Googling_medical_terms_is_easy

    *Sigh…*
    Schizophrenia != multiple personality disorder.

  • Kradeiz

    “God, I miss the ’80s and ’90s, when Marvel artists weren’t afraid to draw women sexy.”

    MJ’s dressing up (and down) for Peter doesn’t bother me bc it feels natural, she and Peter are a young couple enjoying themselves. Plus MJ is a model where her whole job involves showing off, it makes sense she’d enjoy doing that for her husband, too.

    What I’m less a fan of is women drawn sexy with no personality behind it, when it’s just fanservice and nothing else. If the scene above was Peter with some random lady it wouldn’t have anything to it besides titillation. But because we know MJ, and her upbeat personality, and her history and chemistry with Peter, the scene feels a lot more fun and, indeed, sexy.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Oh it’s true, artists could go too far. I think you did see excesses during the Image years. But I also feel we’ve gone so far in the opposite direction where now we’ve got a She Hulk who looks, well, so utterly unfeminine in my opinion. There was nothing wrong with a strong and sexy She Hulk and it’s tiresome when some people think me wanting to see the original make me sexist or misogynistic.

      • Kradeiz

        I think there’s a balance one can make between functional and sexy. Stjepan Sejic is one of my favourite modern artists and he’s found that balance; his characters look strong and sexy, but rarely exploitative or pandering, even when he draws pin-ups or sex scenes which is really impressive. And they’re always oozing personality.

    • mamba

      I agree completely…she’s a married model so yeah, married people have sexy fun. The drawing of sexy people is great to me too, but unfortunately the problem always becomes this:

      (artist) “I want to draw this girl heroine. I’m proud of her…let’s make her fit and smart and sexy and confident, like most other characters…”

      (people) “But you’re showing off too much skin, why are you objectifying women?”

      (artist) Ok then, let’s cover her up somewhat…but I still want to show her body. Latex or leotards maybe?

      (people) But now she’s all about her body! Look at her tits and ass! Still objectifying!

      (artist) Ugh…fine…smaller breasts and she now wears a coat like Gambit. Happy now?

      (people) Look let her hair, too showy. And her lips and eyes? Why did you have to make her look like she wants to kiss everyone she meets? Still too sexy and slutty!

      (artist) SCREW IT, I can’t deal with this crap…the character’s a MALE now, I just want to start writing a good story already and male characters don’t get nearly this kind of scrutiny!

      (people) Oh they’re male now? why are you being so sexist…we need more women characters in comics!

      At that point the artist starts taking up target shooting to relieve stress…

      • Thomas Stockel

        That’s kind’ve what happened to Carol Danvers for a few years. Artists cut her hair, then reduced her breast size to the point where people mockingly called her “Carl Manvers”. It’s only in the past year or so that they’ve started drawing her with more, ah, feminine features.

  • I’m chuckling at the Thing calling him “Mr. Fantastic” instead of “Reed” or “Stretcho”. I know it’s for the reader’s benefit, but I like to imagine Ben got a little better at PR while team leader.

  • Michael Weyer

    MIcheline intended for the symboite to jump hosts and possess other people with each bringing something else to the table. But readers just loved Brock so much that he stuck around as host for years.

    It was McFarlane who transformed MJ from just gorgeous to the ultra-hot model that would become the standard for her.

    McFarlane had been around for a bit but this was when he inked his own pencils and the difference is clear. Plus, how he made Spidey stand out more with weird poses and such. He wanted the classic costume back and the editors were amazed he was the first artist who loved drawing all the webs on it.

    Speaking of, we can thank McFarlane for changing Spidey’s webbing from just net strands that looked like rope to the more intricate webs we know today. Another sign of how he was changing things in the time period.

    • Xander

      McFarlane’s greatest enemy is his ego, but he did earn to an extent, especially for all of the reasons you mention.

      • Thomas Stockel

        Yeah, it’s hard to argue with success. Of all the Image artists Todd was the one who excelled most because of a variety of factors. Spawn was more marketable than any of the other properties, Todd seemed to be able to manage a schedule, and he was a master of self promotion.

        Also bear in mind that he was, if I recall, the highest paid artist in the business at the time and he walked away from a steady paycheck to take a gamble on Image. Big ego? Sure, but big you-know-whats to back ’em up.